The thing about it was the eyes. That's what it came down to. In the end, everything was about how long a man could hold his gaze—that's what really put a fire into the soul. When a man looks a dog in the eyes, only one of two things will happen: the dog will ease back, or the dog will bite. Nigel was a biter. A man looks him in the eyes a half-second too long and something snaps inside him and it's a tangible, lethal pop that can unleash something so devastating that he's got to up and disappear like fog in a breeze. The way that little cunt Charlie looked him in the eyes. The way he insisted with huffing, struggling breaths that he was in control—it was more than he could stand. The way he could actually bring himself to stare upward even for a moment to lock into his stare was enough to inspire the most hateful of rage and for what? For what?
For the memory of her. Every time he dreamed of his Gabi—and she was his—her eyes when she stared at him with her delicate little nose just brushing the tip of his... She stared at him and he eased back. He always eased back for Gabi. She had conquered him and he had been unconquerable before her and he would be unconquerable again. She had somehow disarmed him with her music and her softness. Those eyes, ringed with dark, smudging shadows had been some kind of a mystery and surely he could never have truly known her, even though he was certain that he had. She had lied to him.
He took a deep breath, trying to rip himself from these horrible memories, these terrible moments when he had found that his love had been forsaken, that the woman he had sold his soul to love had betrayed him so completely. Here he was in New York and here he was fucking everything up. There weren't supposed to be witnesses. The whole thing was just some small business, of course, and who was he but a man who could take care of business? It was only some little things at first with certain contracts and in the beginning, there was no fear of any kind of involvement from outside parties. Of course not, why should there be? But this? This was a little bit more and it was something that had given him pause.
After all, this was the same kind of thing that Victor had been hiding from him on that goddamned tape. He wasn't the kind of man who developed cold feet so he found himself here. Driving. The long road in front of him and a cigarette firmly planted between his teeth. He was cold. He was always so cold now that Gabi was gone. She had been his heat. His fire. She had held his gaze with those sharpened eyes and made him submit in a way he'd never once felt was necessary before. She had been his weakness.
So why did he feel weak now? With this creature in the seat beside him? With this boy who could never seem to look directly at him? How had he truly seen anything at all, really? He was quiet and fearful and he rocked with an alarming and frantic pace until he calmed and stared quietly out the window as if he had somehow made peace with the idea of having been taken like a dog to be put down. After all, that's what Nigel was doing. There could be no witnesses and to have one was to be sloppy and Nigel had learned what it meant to be sloppy.
It was being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people noticing. This boy, pale and shivering and awkward, had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people noticing.
You'll have to put him down.
He was a liability and that was all and those were things that Nigel was very acquainted with. Things that had to be taken care of or his life could get messy. That's how things had gotten in many places, last of all, Bucharest. Messy. That's all his life ever was and that's all his life would ever be. No matter how many silencers. No matter how many times he slipped off into nothingness and left no trail behind him. Bucharest wouldn't be his last mess. Not by a long shot.
So as the lights on the freeway tumbled past and each in turn gradually illuminated the dark curls and uncertain eyes of the little lost puppy beside him, he wondered whether or not this had to be it. He didn't know anything about this boy and whether or not he would be missed. Was there a chance that this mess was bigger than he thought? Was there a chance that he'd have to stay out of New York for longer than a few nights? He flicked a glance to the man's lap and felt the edge of his mouth twitch upward at the sight of his blue grocery bag sitting in his lap. The poor guy hadn't even dropped it when Nigel had forced him into the passenger seat of his waiting car. He hadn't even dropped it when he'd innocently wandered into a scene and found three unlucky saps dead or dying in the dimly lit stairwell of the apartment building. He hadn't even said anything at all, seemingly incapable of speech through his immense shock.
Shock was a hell of a drug and for this kid, it seemed devastating. His whole body jarred at the sound of Nigel's low voice, his hands coming to whatever was in the plastic bag as if to use it as protection or maybe to protect it.
“Anyone waiting for you up there?”
There was a semi-long pause as the young man stared at the dashboard of the Taurus. No...that was wrong. He wasn't staring at the dash of the Taurus, he was staring through it. It was almost as if he were blind, his focus unclear and his lips gently parted as he tried to formulate an answer with his brows tilting downward in the center. His voice was so perfectly flat despite the confusion and the fear that made him tremble where he sat. “Where?”
“The apartment, you little fuck,” he let fall out of his mouth in a tumble of words so quick he wasn't certain if the boy could understand him or not. Nigel's patience was a small, weary thing that died at a glance and often did so when he wasn't answered quickly or predictably which happened far too often with these flighty American boys. “Was anyone waiting for you?”
“N-No.” The slight shake of his head was followed by a hard swallow that bobbed his slender throat and begged Nigel to choke him until his strangely wandering eyes rolled up into his skull.
“Who are you? And don't fucking jerk me around or I swear I'll dump you over the side of the fucking freeway right now.”
He spoke in a matter-of-fact sort of way that was as baffling as it was interesting. “A-Adam. I'm Adam.” The anxiety and fear that had brought him into the car rocking and rhythmically squeezing at whatever was in the plastic in his lap was called to the fore again and Adam (just fucking Adam) was compelled to continue. “I l-live upstairs. I was going to eat dinner. I g-got some groceries and I was just going to go upstairs. I don't know what's going on and...and I'd like to get out of the car, please.”
“Afraid I can't do that for you, Adam. You see, you've put a bit of a wrench in the works here. It took months for me to get a good situation in this godforsaken city and here you've wandered right into the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The man was clearly trying very, very hard to not lose control over himself. His fingers were gripped hard into the plastic bag and there were glittering tears brimming in his eyes that shined in the intermittent lights over the freeway. He breathed in ragged sips and his voice was strained when he explained, “I...I was in the right place. You. You didn't belong there. You were the one who wandered in! I...” His tears spilled over, making tiny splats on the plastic. “I live there and I would like very much to go home now.” As an afterthought, he added to the end, “Please.”
“Polite little prick, aren't you? If that could save you, and maybe it has in the past, it won't here. I've got people counting on me, Adam, do you understand? They pay me to do a job and that's what I do for them and sometimes these jobs have a way of requiring discretion. You get it, Adam. I know you do.”
Adam didn't seem to understand. It wasn't surprising, the reality of a situation didn't usually hit right away but this was different, though how, Nigel wasn't exactly certain. Adam closed his eyes and his hands came up from the bag and fisted into his curls by his temples, the heels of his palms pressing into his head. He didn't say anything but his breathing was harsh and maybe he was crying. He was an odd bird, this Adam. It was difficult sometimes for men to come to grips with their plans having gone awry and there were limited ways to cope, surely. Nigel had long ago learned to roll forward with things that happened, jumping from bit to bit and taking everything a moment at a time. Adam was a digger—he set his feet, dug his heels, and refused to move forward. His night was supposed to be simple—get groceries, come home, have a quiet evening, and go to bed. Through no fault of his own, it was ruined. A damn shame.
By the time his unwilling passenger was to the point where he could again put his hands down to the plastic bag, they were out of the city and there were no more lights rolling over the Taurus, the night surrounding them as an oppressive blackened weight. He wasn't certain Adam had any real idea of what was happening. That Nigel was going to eventually pull over, wrench him from the passenger seat and drag him kicking and struggling into a lonely field to put him down. At this point, the trajectory of the event should have been obvious but, Nigel conceded, Adam was an odd bird.
Curiosity was a sickness. Nigel glanced at him. “I'm going to kill you, you know.”
Adam's throat worked again when he swallowed and blinked. His brows, still pinched with his heavy discontent, were dark and defined in the dimness of the car and his voice was almost offended when he gave his nod. “I know.”
“You're not going to try to grab the wheel? Beg for your life?”
“N-Neither of those things are likely to change the outcome.” There were no more tears and that odd matter-of-factness pinged in Nigel's brain. It was true, anyway. There was a weighing of factors going on in that pretty little head of his even if he looked almost like he was off in another world, staring into nothing.
“That's the quickest I've ever seen a man come to terms with his own death. A fucking miracle worker, you are.” He smirked at himself and flipped the lights off on the car before he pulled over to the side on a long stretched of dark pavement. The nearest lights were those of a farmhouse far out into the distance and the wind howled around the Taurus as he made to get out. He opened the door and paused, staring over at Adam for a moment. “You going to run?”
This time there was one tear that escaped and fled down his cheek. “No.”
People were difficult to predict. People lied. Even people you loved and who you thought loved you would lie to you. But Adam didn't and somehow Nigel knew that, the reality of it dawning over him in a warm wash as if he'd found a sun-soaked patch of hardwood with bare feet. Even when he had grabbed a hold of Adam's track jacket and dragged him out of the car, he was reflecting on this strange tidbit. He'd never met someone who wouldn't—or couldn't—deceive him. He tossed the kid to the ground, watching him stagger first and then fall, his grip on the plastic grocery bag failing and sending boxes of little frozen dinners scattering over the dirt and patchy grasses. Pulling out his pistol, he cocked it and gave pause while he watched Adam on his knees, reaching out with shaking hands to gather up the microwavable mac and cheese dinners to place them neatly back into the bag.
“For the love of all fucking Christ, what the fuck are you fucking doing?” Nigel sighed, feeling the weight of the gun against his thigh when he dropped his hands.
“I...I think that you don't really expect an answer, but if you do, you should tell me.” He was still on his knees, gathering up the last of the now mostly-thawed boxes.
“Fucking give me an answer, Adam.”
He sniffed. “I dropped these when you pushed me. They don't belong on the ground.”
Nigel put his eyes in his palm and gave a great sigh. “I don't understand you, Adam.”
He nodded, comprehending immediately and no stranger to the notion. “I know I'm different. It's not something I mean to do. Just like I didn't mean to see what...w-what I saw... Those people don't...they don't live in the building. They didn't. They didn't live there. I've lived there for a long time and I've never seen them before—”
“Hey kid,” he interrupted, lifting his gun and taking aim. “Shut up.”
It wasn't often that things veered so far of course. Yes, there were some days where the small things didn't line up exactly but those were fixable. There were hardly ever any devastating deviations to the schedule. It wasn't a timing thing, after all. It was more a motion. He was supposed to go up the stairs, put the mac and cheese in the freezer (all except one), microwave his dinner, put on his show, masturbate, and then go to sleep. The comfort of being able to know exactly what was going to happen when he got to his apartment was second to none when it came to comforts. Adam shouldn't have had to worry about anything interrupting that schedule—why should it? Nobody knocked on his door. Nobody bothered quiet and unassuming little Adam Raki who was a little strange (really, who wasn't?) but harmless after all.
When he'd found Nigel standing in the stairwell over three bleeding men—he was fairly certain they were dead, they looked dead—he would have preferred to simply walk on by. It wasn't his business and after seeing something like that, he would be extra appreciative of sitting in his kitchen chair and eating his mac and cheese. Calling 9-1-1 wasn't something he was willing to do again and surely—surely he could just forget all of it. The whole event was enough to make a huge ball of anxiety twine up in his guts and tangle them together and that was before he was scruffed by the tall, strong man who'd presumably killed those three men. When he was forced into a waiting car and effectively kidnapped, it hadn't been a good way to round out his schedule. That was something big.
Now, he was sitting on his knees and the whole situation had really come down to it—he was going to get murdered and even though he knew what for, it still really struck him as awful. Just awful. What kind of night ends up like this? How did everything get so screwed up so easily? Did it happen to other people, normal people, this way or was it just him? Just Adam Raki, absorbed in his own little world as if he could help it that he was the way he was. Maybe normal people could talk their way out of something like this. Maybe normal people could charm hit men.
But probably not.
When the tall stranger had told him to shut up, he closed his eyes and bit his bottom lip, his head tilting down a little bit as he waited. Death shouldn't be so terrible. A sagging blackness maybe. No need for tiredness. No need for worry. No need to feel so useless all the time. Maybe no more other people. That would be nice.
There was no gunshot. He heard a shift and then the man in black whispering to himself.
“What the fuck.”
He didn't move. He was cold and he was uncomfortable on the hard ground and all he wanted to do was go home or die. If those were the two options, then he would take either one. There was an expectation now. With a low and flat tone, he asked softly, “Are you angry with me?”
“No, no Adam,” came the response and Adam looked up to find the man looking off toward his car, his posture and expression impossible to read while he studied his own car. “There's...there's someone fucking with my car.”
The man was gone, walking to his car and moving around it, a black specter himself as he crouched and slunk his way around the vehicle with his gun ready to fire. Adam sat on his feet with his mac and cheeses in his lap, waiting with his heart in his throat. He should have been getting up and running, he thought placidly. But where would he go? What would he do? How would running help him any more than simply sitting here? He didn't know the terrain, he didn't know how well this man knew the terrain either. Was it worth it, anyway? Every moment he'd thought of running, it had taken him far too long to figure out if he should do it or not. This time was the same.
Why bother even thinking about it?
He gripped his mac and cheeses tighter and waited, his heart picking up when he thought he saw something black moving through the night into the field behind him from the road. A person, perhaps. Someone who was “fucking” with the car.
A cool breeze made him shiver and he wished this horrible night would end. He was cold and his eyes felt sandy and tired. He wiped them on his sleeve even though they were dry and he felt the sting of the over-rubbed skin when he blinked. A terrible night. Unsalvageable. He was hungry. His stomach was growling and he was halfway convinced that it might be alright just to open one of his dinners right here and eat it out in the middle of a field even if it was still partially frozen. Even if it wouldn't taste as good. It wasn't really about the taste anyway, he thought as he contemplated the idea in the dark.
There was a whisper as the man in black came back to him and he felt a plunge in his heart. He wouldn't have enough time to contemplate eating the mac and cheese—why did everything have to happen so quickly?
“The fucking cunt did in the tires. What the fuck kind of fuckery is this?”
“I don't understand,” Adam replied softly.
“Who are you, really? Hmm? Who are you to have someone out here to fuck with me? Did you have me followed?”
Adam felt his lower lip tremble as he moved to cover his face. “I don't understand why you're saying this. I'm Adam. I'm Adam Raki. I l-live...I l-live up the s-stairs.”
There was a sigh and then Adam was scruffed again, pulled by the back of his track jacket and roughly half-dragged until everything was exponentially darker and he realized that the man had pulled him far enough that they were not afield anymore but at the edge of a black and dense set of woods. The trees were so tightly knit together that no starlight or moonlight could have entered and Adam staggered through the foliage as the man dragged him, branches scratching at his face and his hands and the bag of mac and cheeses.
“What do they want?” he demanded, shaking Adam hard by the neck of his jacket.
“I don't know!”
“Keep your voice down, you fucking prick.”
He was quietly hiccuping a few sobs now and he could feel fresh tears on his cheeks while he hugged his dinners to his chest and tried to rock back and forth if only to gain just the smallest modicum of soothing. He wasn't stupid. He knew why he did what he did. He just didn't know why all of this had to happen to him—why things had turned out the way they had. He was covered in burrs, his tennis shoes were muddy, and his face was prickled and stinging from the whipping branches of these terrible murky trees.
Adam was dragged again, stumbling with his feet sliding every so often through the loose duff of the forest floor as he was drawn ever deeper into this horrible mire. He wished that it had all ended when the gun had been cocked. He wished it had all gone the way that was predictable. If he had to have his schedule ruined so terribly, at least there could have been a foreseeable outcome but this? This was open-ended and that was unmanageable. He was openly weeping now, unsure of what he was supposed to be doing or saying. He couldn't stop hugging his dinners to his chest and whimpering with every stuffy-nosed sob.
He wiped his nose and blinked, his eyes already mostly used to the dark but only able to gather clues slowly in the murk and through his tears. There was a small clearing that they'd approached just barely visible through the trees and in the center of it was a dark wooden shack that appeared abandoned though it was not falling apart in the ways that many wilderness cabins tended to do. Someone was keeping it up. Someone was taking care of it and for what insidious purpose, Adam couldn't hope to guess.
“No...” he whimpered, his body curling in upon itself as his knees gave way and he crumpled.
He was picked up and carried, those strong arms around him seeming not even to strain at his weight. Adam closed his eyes against the dark and horrid image of that shack as it drew closer with every strong and sure step that his grim reaper took toward it and soon he knew they were inside as the air was a little warm, a little moist, and a little rancid. He was set down on his feet with his knees wobbling and uncertain, the wood under his dirty shoes feeling soft like it was hollow underneath. At once he missed the male scent he'd caught while he was carried and the comforting pressure of those arms that caged him. Loose and lost, he stood and trembled, hardly able to bring himself to look around and see what was here in this place that instilled in him a primal horror that was as old as the world and as inevitable as the rising sea.
There's something here.
The man in black rummaged through some things that were piled into the corner of the shack and busied himself by lighting an old oil lantern that still held some fuel, casting a steady but eerie glow over the mildewed refuse that littered the floor. There were no chairs or any furniture, only mounds of wet cardboard boxes that sagged and ripped to reveal the stacks of rotting magazines like National Geographic and Good Housekeeping. The whole space was small but the most terrifying bit of it was not that it was dark or that the roof was leaking or even that there was an oddly-shaped black trash bag leaking god-knew-what on top of some of the boxes.
It was that there was a basement.
Adam backed himself into the only clear corner, the one directly across from the opening to the dark stairwell and he crouched downward, forming himself into the tightest ball he could. He wanted to tell the stranger to douse the light but then he didn't want to be in the dark. He wanted to pretend that he hadn't smelled the stale rotting stench that seemed to waft from the opening in the floor too—but he had, once. After his father died and he'd gone through every step they'd taken him through and he'd been to the place where they prepare corpses, he'd smelled it. Chemical and terrible, it was a mixture of organic and inorganic and Adam wanted to scream. He felt it welling up in his throat, partially released as a pitiful whimper.
He couldn't articulate it. How had this happened? How had this come to be? He thunked his head on the wooden wall of the shack, creating an odd hollow sound as the pain helped him pull away from his fear and uncertainty. It was easier this way. He thudded his head again and again and again until he felt a strong hand stay him and keep him from doing it again, his heart filling with a hard frustration that made his mouth open in a ripping and horrible scream. Even that was cut off by the stranger's strong hand while he pleaded in harsh whispers for Adam to shut the fuck up. Just shut the fuck up.
Just. Shut. The Fuck. Up.
This took me a long time to figure out. Adam is a son of a bitch to write, woo howdy. I hope anyone who's interested in this doesn't mind my delve into "backwoods horror" as a backdrop for Spacedogs "romance."
Listen. I'm trying my best here.